This arose from a challenge from CelticFrog to use within the same story three elements: a clown, an elderly Russian spy, a bar of soap
In the barren back lands of Australia, many years ago, an outback community was buzzing with talk of a circus coming to town in a few months. Sited in the middle of desert land, serving cattle stations that were bigger than Texas, the little town (which refused to be considered a mere village) was a focal point for gossip, ordering supplies, and the outback radio network. Four main buildings made up the “town” – a blacksmith and hardware store, a general store and postal station, a school house, and the pub. Lining the dirt track through the town and out into the desert were about eight or nine houses – seven if you only counted those in which someone actually lived.
The maiden-aunt figure of the school teacher (Miss Nadia Vokova) was given distractions by questions about circuses, as they’d never been to one nor even seen one. In the dusty dry book shelves in the back room she found a story book with pictures showing a circus, and she made sure the class learned what to expect when the circus came to town.
She arranged for the educational school’s airwaves host to cover the circus as a topic. Children living ‘way too far to come into town for school would hear of the circus through the radio grapevine, and want to know more about it too, before deciding if it would be worth calling the plane in to bring them to its performance.
Early on a typically dry morning, as Miss Vokova crossed the road from her school house to the general store, she saw the jeep drive away towards the landing strip, having just dropped off the weekly mail. She opened the store’s door and went to the stationery area, seeking large paper sheets and powder-mix paint for the school.
“Hey there, Miss Vokova, you just call if you need any help there,” the store keeper Blue Jackson, greeted her as he hauled packages and envelopes from the green canvas mailbag.
“Thanks, Blue, I will need help later with delivery of a few things,” she answered “Carry on with the mail, don’t mind me.”
“Righty-oh, Miss,” and he began piling, sifting and sorting. Soon the mail was sorted: one pile to be delivered by his black boy to the town addresses, one pile of envelopes that would wait for near farmers to collect on their weekly ride into town for supplies, and one pile for the local airplane to drop off at the distant stations.
She moved on towards the fabrics at the back. She wanted to sew a new dress for summer, and started pulling cloth bolts partially from the stacks.
“D’you need the missus, there?” called Blue.
“Is she busy? I’d like some advice from your wife.”
“Sweet-‘eart? Sweet heart! Customer in dressmaking, love,” he hollered.
Mrs Jackson bustled through the curtain hanging across the doorway into the back half of the store, where their living quarters were. The women were busily comparing patterns, measuring Nadia, comparing fabrics, selecting, matching and gathering the notions – buttons, threads, lace trim – when Blue’s voice (always rather loud) roared even louder.
“Ya-bloody-hoo! They’re here! The tickets are here!” he held up a cardboard packet. “And posters too! And give-away balloons! It’s really on. It’s on, alright!”
“Ah, you’re a big kid yourself, Blue!” his wife called to his retreating back. He was off to tape a poster onto the store’s window, then the pub, the blacksmith’s, the horse trough … anything vertical.
“As soon as he’s back, he’ll be on the air telling everyone the tickets are in. He’s worked so hard to get that circus to agree to come out all this way, he has to sell every ticket, Daft bugger,” she said lovingly to Nadia.
Nadia wandered the store, collecting a few household items: a can of Brasso, a pack of two bars of Sunlight, two new dusting cloths and another kitchen knife – one with a long, thin blade for cutting easily through the Cheddar. She paid and carried the household items back home. Blue’s boy, Arunta, would deliver the school and dressmaking items, neatly wrapped in brown paper and string tied, later in the cool evening.
Just as the kids were ready to come inside again as lunch break ended, Arunta came jogging over the road, carrying a rolled tube of paper.
“Missy Vok! Missy Vok!” he called.
“Hi there, Arunta,” she greeted the lad.
“Mr Blue, he says your school kiddies can have a poster too, Missy,” and Arunta held out the tube. As she took it and thanked him, he continued “And don’t worry about this morning’s shopping, Missy. I’ll be coming by at end of the day, like always.” He grinned broadly, and scampered back to the shop.
‘For a lad of only eleven, he’s a good kid,’ thought Nadia. ‘No parents, lives alone in Blue’s spare house, and works hard all day for anyone with a job for him. Pity he hasn’t a chance of coming to school.’ She meant that at his age, he would not be able to catch up with the farming children already in school. If he were younger and had a sponsor instead of parents who’d left him behind when they went walk-about, there’d be no problem.
She unrolled the poster inside the classroom after making space on the pin-board by moving other pictures. She stood back and read it:
BARNABY & TAYLOR’S AMAZING TOURING CIRCUS!
Caged Lions, Tigers –
And, New To The Country’s Circus Circuit
– The Asian Tree Leopard!
Clowns! Trick and Show Ponies!
Jockey Races Around The Ringside!
Fire-Eater Feroni! The Incredible Smithson’s’ Stilt Team!
Trapeze Artistes Monica And Michael!
And Did We Say Clowns?
The Mechanical Car! The Fire Truck!
BLINKY THE CLOWN, With BONEY, The BRAINY BEAGLE!
Blinky? Her heart skipped a beat. Surely, not her Blinky, still chasing her after all these years? It couldn’t be – after so long, he’d be dead by now. She peered at the art work of Blinky the Clown. No, it wasn’t her Blinky – the makeup was wrong; she knew a clown’s makeup was registered and never changed.
But she didn’t look at that poster again unless she had to.
– – – – – –
Blue had sold every ticket there was by the time the road-train arrived with the circus. Blue suggested a patch of ground behind the pub, but the circus owner refused, and so they set up the tents behind the blacksmith’s. Nadia allowed the school children to watch them finish setting up in the morning after they’d almost completed everything during the night. Of course, the kids all had to write a report on what they’d seen, just to keep it “educational” as an experience. The children were all disappointed, and felt sorry for Miss Vokova – she was the only person they knew who’d missed out on buying a ticket, so she wouldn’t be going.
– – – – – –
At home during the evening of the circus’s single performance, Nadia listened to the traditional circus music and the excited cheers of the crowd. She felt restless, and left her seat by the open window, went into her back room and pulled a large trunk from beneath the spare bed. She dusted it off then went to her room to find the keys to the locks: two different keys, to confuse anyone trying to get inside without her okay.
She flipped back the lid, and carefully unfolded the tissue layered over the contents. Her formal evening gown, worn in London. Her sensual cocktail dress and sandals, worn in Prague. Assorted business suits and elegant casual clothing, plus the black closely fitting body suit and nylon boots, perfect for night stealth. The alligator skin clutch purse, in which her fake passports were tucked (the currently ‘real’ one was in her top drawer of her china cupboard), along with small wads of banknotes from each country in which she’d ever worked. No Roubles of course. Her orders had always been never to try to go home again. She lifted out the cardboard shelf that held all the innocuous clothing.
Below was another set of memories. The gun she’d been issued by the KGB – useless now that bullets for it couldn’t be bought in Australia for neither love nor money. The Glock she’d lifted from the New York police station front desk, and the box of bullets. The New Zealand Police 590A1 model Mossberg shotgun with 16 inch barrel, and the boxes of cartridges. Three kongos. The shiv she’d had to make from a six-inch shard of broken glass slotted into an eight-inch handle of bamboo, in Vietnam. She took one kongo, and used it to twist her hair up on top of her head. She pulled the Mossberg and cartridges out, repacked the trunk and slid it back away out of sight.
In her sitting room she fetched the silencer she’d made years ago, from its place in the pantry, and checked the Mossberg’s action, loaded it and fitted the silencer. She slid it under her two-seater couch and sat listening to the National ABC radio broadcast, although her ears were alert for sounds from the circus site and the perimeter of her house.
The show ended, and there was a seemingly endless parade of people, buggies, carts and tractors hauling sleds past the house. Then, only the sound of the roustabouts packing the trunks of the troupe and pulling down the tents. The performers would have headed straight to their compartments in one of the road train trailers.
As she expected, before long after silence fell, there was a tap at the window – timid, but audible above the chirruping night crickets. She walked to the window and opened it wider, nearly taking off the head of the figure crouched under the swinging frame.
The moonlight was bright enough to show her it was indeed Blinky. He’d have been aged about sixty-five, by now. He was balding (so perhaps that explained the new makeup clown face), slightly stooped, but as always elegantly dressed, in a sports jacket and trousers – though still wearing clown-face.
“Come in, Blinky,” she offered, and stepped back to give him room to use the window, which faced away from the road. He reached up to the sill, and somersaulted into the room over it. He stood brushing imaginary creases out of the clothing.
“A drink together, Miss Nadezhda Sergeyevna, for old times’ sake?” he offered as he drew his hip flask from his inside jacket pocket. He flipped off the two tin cups covering the lid, unscrewed the lid and poured a generous nip for them both.
“Za vashe zdorovye!” they toasted in unison. The vodka was a good Stolichnaya, and Nadezhda held out her cup for another.
“So, you are still chasing me,” said Nadezhda. “Even now, when neither of us could harm a living soul, nor each other. And still after all these years, I do not know why. So, it’s time to tell me.” She gestured they should sit, and carefully manoeuvred him to the one seat that did not directly face the two-seater.
“It’s simple. I’ve been trying to stop you,” he said.
“From doing what?” she pretended innocence, knowing it would infuriate him.
“From chasing around the world, adding to its troubles by following directions from an agency that is now impotent and no longer has a hold over you.”
“I know the KGB is only a shadow now. But its replacement still forbids me from going home. So, I live here now. I am not an active agent any longer. I’m a fair-dinkum Aussie after fourteen years here. I teach children, I grow vegetables, I cook and clean for myself. The only difference between here and Russia is – I’m free here. No one knows what I have done. And Australia is much warmer than Russia.”
She paused and accepted a third cup of Stolichnaya.
“And why does it matter to you, what I do and where I live?” she asked, and eased her position on the couch, closer to the edge as if to listen carefully.
“To me, it does not personally matter. But to others, your existence is still a threat to their political or financial welfare. And they are my friends. I help my friends, Nadezhda. After these years of no contact, we can forget our past conflicts. I can be your friend, and you can be mine.”
“And these other friends of yours. They are…?”
“Austrian, Kurkhistani, Algerian, Palestinian … places –“
“- places all over central Europe, the Middle East and old Russia,” Nadia finished for him. “And how close to correct would I be if I guessed … old KGB?” She saw his tell – the twitch in the corner of his mouth. Blinky was there for only one reason.
She raised her hand casually to her hair, and removed the kongo. It was a small but heavy one; she could hide it in her hand. He realised her next move a split second after she made it. As the kongo spun through the air to crack his temple open, he reached into his pocket for the stiletto he always carried. But she already had the shotgun out, and was moving in closer.
(‘The longer barrel and getting in close makes for a narrower scatter,’ the voice of her instructor came back to her from years ago.)
Standing over Blinky as he scrambled up to his feet to face her, she fired directly at him. Two shots – one to make him hurt, one to finish him.
She felt his carotid pulse – not a twitch. Taking his stiletto – a fine Italian silver engraved ebony handle – and the Mossman back to her back room, she stowed everything away in the trunk.
She tipped Blinky’s body out the window, into the flower bed below. She fetched a bucket, a rag, and a new bar of Sunlight all-purpose soap, and removed all signs of the little bleeding from Blinky – most of his blood was soaked into his suit.
Outside, she washed all the clown-face from him. She stripped him down to his singlet and boxer shorts, and stuffed his clothes and leather shoes into an old hessian sack, which had last carried potatoes.
Blinky’s body she then dragged across to the circus cavalcade, where, beside the caged wild cats, she cut up and fed him to the lions, tigers and the tree leopard – a pretty wild cat, that one.
Over the next couple of days after the circus road-train had left – the owner annoyed by Blinky being missing – Nadia spring-cleaned her house, for the first time since buying it years ago fetching old junk from the ceiling crawl space, from under the house, from the back of old closets. Blue obliged by letting her have some large cardboard banana boxes. One of the school pupils’ Dad offered to come and haul away her rubbish, and drop it into a deep pit he wanted filled in, before he lost cattle or a child down the natural shaft.
Nothing was going to interrupt her retirement now. Not while she could help it.
nahDYEHZHdah for woman spy = Nadezhda
Sergeyevna = middle patronymic name with feminine ending
Vokova – = wolf’s; surname with feminine ending
vodka brand = Stolichnaya vodka